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Madame, present your license

Today, I was asked if I had a license to hold human remains. Well, not me, obviously. The historic society I work for.

Sir, this is an archive, not a charnel house.

I can’t even work out how you get one. There are tons of resources out there for how you import, store, handle, display or repatriate human remains, but none of them mentions a permit.

The backstory is that all building work in certain areas requires an official archeologist to be at the site to sift through anything you dig up. This is a good thing (tho expensive). If you wonder how on earth they found Richard III’s body under a parking lot, this is it.

And before the dig begins, the archeologist must find an appropriate place to store anything they might find. If there isn’t a big local museum (and sometimes even if there is), finds often go to the county council, where they are put in boxes and warehoused à la the end of Indiana Jones.

This is a pretty good thing, too. Every once in a while, a local archeology group will get a little money together and revisit stuff. Like, eight years ago, Eastbourne Borough Council’s museum service got a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (yet another good thing) to re-examine 300 skeletons that had been deposited with them over the years.

The most interesting find was Beachy Head Lady, a woman who grew up in southeast England during the Roman occupation. She was of sub-Saharan African descent!

My favorite, though, was a specimen from an archeology program we watched once. I’m irritated that I can’t find a link online; you’ll have to take my word. The bones had little holes drilled in them, almost certainly for re-articulating the skeleton. Thing is, whoever did it didn’t bother getting all the bones from the same body, so it’s not like it was a revered ancestor or anything.

You got that? Somebody dug up ancient bones and strung them together for purposes unknown. I believe it was a prehistoric proto-Hallowe’en prank and nothing will convince me otherwise.

Oh, one other thing I learned today. I, personally, technically need a license of some kind. I think. Someone once gave me a box of 19th Century microscope slides from University of Philadelphia Med School, including human tissue – a thing covered in the Human Tissue Act of 2004. I can be bothered to find out if I’m in breach.


Comment from Uncle Al
Time: October 1, 2020, 3:32 am

You may be OK, Mme. Ermine. That Wikipedia article seems to be saying that the Act only “requires licences for those intending to publicly display human remains”, so all you have to do is be sure when you display your human remains you do so privately.

Not your remains, obviously, but somebody else’s remains you happen to possess. (-:

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: October 1, 2020, 3:37 am

“I pulled you over for whistling past a Roman Occupation graveyard. May I please see your license, registration, and death certificate, madam?”

Comment from Pupster
Time: October 1, 2020, 2:52 pm

Show me the Weasel, I’ll show you the crime.

Comment from p2
Time: October 1, 2020, 6:49 pm

You apply at the Ministry of Housinge. Same place you go to get a Fish License.

Comment from Sabrina Chase
Time: October 4, 2020, 11:39 pm

You know that even death does not protect you from the long arm of French immigration law? Supposedly when one of the Ramseses mummies needed scoping out and they were going to move this mummy via airplane to France where the CAT scanner was, they had to come up with a passport for him. I think that when your bureaucracy has *forms for mummy passports* you may, possibly, have too much bureaucracy.

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